ROME – As Italian lawmakers debate whether to pass a controversial anti-homophobia bill which has met unprecedented criticism from the Vatican, Catholics are divided on the issue, with some saying a new law is desperately needed and others claiming it would only cause more problems.

Speaking to Crux, Vittorio Bellavite of Catholic pro-LGBTQ+ organization Noi Siamo Chiesa said a new law such as the so-called “Ddl Zan” is desperately needed, “because concretely in practice, the violent interventions against homosexuals are unfortunately frequent.”

“Every day the papers report it,” he said, insisting that currently there is no norm in Italian law banning discrimination specifically on the basis of sexual orientation, and because of this, “a specific norm which targets those who use violence and hostility against homosexuals” is required.

Antonio Brandi of the Italian Catholic Pro Vitae Famiglia organization, however, disagrees. Speaking to Crux, he said a new law targeting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is “absolutely not” needed.

“Our penal code protects every single human being irrespective of their religion, ethnic group, or sex, comprehensively,” Brandi said, arguing that “to actually create a super-protected category of citizens breaks the constitutional equal right of all citizens who are actually equal in the law.”

The reason, he said, is that one category of people is being prioritized over others who face discrimination for a variety of other reasons, and “who are actually truly discriminated against in larger numbers.”

Pointing to examples, Brandi said people who are overweight or who are disabled also often face discrimination, yet there is no specific law protecting their rights, as the Ddl Zan would for the LGBTQ+ community.

“That shows the hypocrisy of this law,” he said, noting that disabled people are in the Ddl Zan, but only in the first article, and they do not appear in again throughout the rest of the bill.

Brandi argued that this is “a clear instrumentalization of the disabled and handicapped people, who are truly discriminated against,” in order to push an agenda.

Named after Alessandro Zan, the openly gay Italian politician who presented it, the “Ddl Zan” is a bill which seeks to increase legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation and to incorporate gender theory into school curricula.

Last month the Vatican made an unprecedented move against the bill by issuing a nota verbale, meaning a formal diplomatic communication, to the Italian government in objection to the bill by citing their status as a sovereign entity.

For the first time, the Vatican invoked the 1929 Lateran Pacts, which established Vatican City State as a sovereign entity and which governs relations between Italy and the Holy See, to oppose the bill on grounds that the current version was too general and could criminalize Church teaching on marriage and the family, thus violating guarantees of religious freedom enshrined in both the Italian constitution and the Lateran Pacts.

The bill was approved by the lower chamber of the Italian parliament in November and is currently being debated in the Italian Senate.

In a July 13 Senate assembly, it passed two significant hurdles despite the Vatican’s complaint, with lawmakers voting 136-124 that it did not violate the Italian constitution – a procedural step before the approval of the law itself – and senators have until Tuesday, July 20, to submit any amendments.

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Once the amendments are submitted, they will be voted on individually before the bill itself is put to a vote.

Catholics themselves remain divided on the issue.

While some, including the Italian bishops, have backed the Vatican’s position and are pushing for the bill to redrafted with clearer language and assurances of freedom of expression, a collection of 71 different Christian associations have signed an appeal saying they are aware of the concerns about freedom of expression, but want the bill to be passed as is.

The reason for this, the appeal said, is that the groups, which include Bellavite’s Noi Siamo Chiesa, believe that a failure to pass the bill “would certainly cause much greater damage than any inconveniences, which can be dealt with later thanks to a frank and fruitful confrontation.”

Speaking to Crux, Bellavite acknowledged that there are problems with the text of the bill, saying “this law can be written better, perfected, but the law in substance is a good law.”

“If the Senate does not approve it, even for some small modification,” it will return to the Camera dei Deputati, or the House of Representatives, “where it will certainly stay,” halted by endless discussions, protests, and debates.

To not approve the bill now, he said, “means impeding this law entirely…That’s why we are asking for this text to be passed and applied. Then, in the coming years it can be evaluated whether small changes or modifications are needed, [and] these can be done.”

Brandi, on the other hand, said, passing this law could make it more difficult to fully prosecute crimes involving homosexual or transgender people, and cited an incident several years ago in which a woman was assaulted in the bathroom at a train station in Bari by a man who identified as a woman.

There is also a serious question about what gender identity actually means, he said, saying, “if tomorrow morning I can wake up and tell my wife that I consider myself a woman, where is the woman’s identity? Where has it gone? The same if my wife wakes up and says, ‘I feel like a man,’ where is the man’s identity?”

The grounds for defining this identity are unclear, and without that clarity, Brandi said, a swath of problems could arise.

He also cautioned against the rising suicide rates among transgender people who have actually “transitioned,” meaning they have undergone the sex-change operation, which in some countries has risen to 50 percent.

To incorporate gender theory into schools, then, means “children are in danger,” as there will almost certainly be an encouragement for children to “transition” if they have doubts about their gender, he sad.

Brandi also echoed concerns over religious freedom, noting that in Prague, where he currently lives, “I risk six years of jail if I say that I am against homosexuality or if I say that a child needs a father and a mother,” and that could soon be the situation in Italy too, if the bill is not modified.

Should the law be passed without amendments or modifications, as many are expecting, it would mean homosexual individuals and families “are freer, they are convinced that they are more accepted,” Bellavite said.

“This law is something important,” he said, noting that while violent discrimination will almost certainly still happen, “at least they have the Republic that says these things are condemned and the tribunals must apply this law.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen